Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Assessing impact of rural advisory services on smallholders 

In her presentation to the Policy Dialogue, Dr. Elske Van de Fliert, University of Queensland, Australia highlighted the critical issues of rural advisories for smallholder farmers by defining sustainable development as an increase in production while protecting the environment and ensuring social equity.

Dr. Van de Fliert also explained the sustainable livelihood framework that, according to the DFID integrates human, social, physical and financial capital. At the village level, this means to quantify the impact of these goals according to fair income, sufficient quality food, good health, equitable relations and healthy environment that need to be incorporated in development programmes for smallholders.

The process of technology transfer for enhancing livelihoods and promoting socioeconomic growth should be monitored and evaluated regularly to assess its impact, she pointed out. It is important to note that evaluation needs to be: (i) participatory, to understand the different levels mentioned above; (ii) holistic, to understand the dynamic context, networks and how different systems are interrelated; (iii) critical, to assess inequalities, challenges and contradictions in the process of social change; (iv) realistic, to understand how systems actually behave and are grounded in local realities; (v) learning-based, to provide opportunities to foster continuous learning, evaluative thinking and better communication and trust, as a basis for development of evaluation capacities and learning organizations; (v) emergent,  to reflect social change and continuous feedback loops, and capture unexpected outcomes and ripple effects; (vi) and complex, to understand the dynamic context and outcomes unknown in advance, which require analysis of social norms and mixed evaluation methods.

Fundamental to these processes is the aim to develop mutual trust, partnerships, two-way communication and mutual learning.

Reporter: Suraj Pandey, APCTT-ESCAP

Monday, February 23, 2015

Rising hope for sustainable rice in Cambodia

“Rice production in Cambodia has increased significantly since 2001 reaching 9.3 million tons on 2 million hectares of agricultural land and engaging 80 per cent of farmers in rice cultivation,” said Mr. Dao Cambodochine, Trade Facilitation Consultant, Asian Synergy Consulting Services Co. Ltd, Cambodia, in his presentation on the role of technology transfer in rice sector for sustainable development during the Policy Dialogue. 

Rice is a staple food in Cambodia accounting for 90 per cent of all agricultural production. The country is also the 5th largest exporter of rice in the world. Since 2009, the trade and marketing of rice in Cambodia is continuously rising due to a huge demand for food across Asia and other regions. The country exports rice to more than 100 destinations from the East to the West.

Rice marketing is the major economic activity in Cambodia being traded as an exchange commodity for many goods and services in informal markets. It was not until 2008 that Cambodia exported its first measurable milled rice surplus. Since then, impressive developments have taken place at all levels of the rice supply chain, with a rapid increase in exports. Therefore, public and private partnership in Cambodia invested huge amounts in technology for rice milling industries to facilitate trade and commerce for export and supply management.

Mr. Dao also pointed out that new technologies of rice mills are highly automated and computer-controlled facilities require increased capacities in Cambodia. Improved quality management in rice production also helps to meet international standards. The inception of seed multiplication projects provided access to higher-quality seeds of the most valuable rice varieties, leading to improved yields of homogenous crop. As a result, Cambodian rice is considered ‘green’ and naturally grown with limited use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Subsequently, rice mills are obtaining various quality management and food safety certifications such as ISO, HACCP and GMP.

Furthermore, Mr. Dao also highlighted that rice industry in Cambodia still needs to be uplifted in terms of implementation of the country’s action plan and accountability of logistics such as rejuvenation of water ways for trade, which is under-utilized in the country, maximizing the use of land and improvement of existing waterbodies of Cambodia.

Reporter: Suraj Pandey, APCTT-ESCAP

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Evidence-based policymaking – information and data needed for technology transfer 

The gains of technology transfer have not reached all farmers, while productivity growth is declining. The excessive use of pesticides and fertilizers has brought into question the long-term sustainability of Asia-Pacific agricultural production systems. There is also a lack of evidence of what works for smallholders and how the successful use of improved technology can be scaled up. There is, therefore, a need for improved documentation and data management to inform policymaking in support of technology transfer to promote sustainable agriculture, food security and poverty reduction. 

These were among the issues before the second panel discussion during the Policy Dialogue. The panel was moderated by Michael Williamson and included Mr. Kipp Sutton, Agricultural Team Leader, USAID Regional Development Mission – Asia, Thailand; Dr. Mak Soeun, Deputy Director General, General Directorate of Agriculture and In Charge, Food Security, Agricultural Extension and Agricultural Cooperatives, Cambodia; Dr. Ramesh Chand, Director, National Centre for Agricultural Economics and Policy Research, India; Dr. Rozhan Bin Abu Dardak, Director, Economic and Technology Management Research Centre, Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute, Malaysia; and Dr. Virginia Cardenas, Deputy Director-Administration, Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture, Philippines.

Policymaking information requirements for effective technology transfer 
The discussion began with Mr. Sutton stating: “Farmers need to believe in technology in order to adopt it.” Offering a donor’s perspective, the USAID official said his organization focused on the following questions in its work:
  1. What is the exact problem we are trying to address from the farmers’ perspective?
  2. What is already out there in terms of agricultural technologies and what has been accepted by farmers?
  3. What are farmers’ preferences and socioeconomic circumstances that would provide a basis for technology adoption?
  4. Do we have good evidence and data of what is successful and can be scaled up?

Responding, Dr. Dardak defined policy as the setting of a strategic direction for different development sectors. It is, therefore, very difficult for policymakers to obtain information because one policy cannot fit both – communities and governments’ economic direction. There is a need for data that can:

1. indicate the impact of technology transfer on the national economy
2. help farmers to sustainably develop

Policymakers need data that can lead all development sectors and can be used by farmers and government officials. While research generates the key scientific database for technology transfer, the government needs information directly from farmers for a better assessment of how agricultural productivity and produce quality can be improved. 

The evidence base is always growing and evolving because it takes into consideration the socioeconomic and environmental context of agricultural livelihoods. Therefore, it is important for policymakers to be supported and advised by research.

Information needed for enhanced agricultural technology transfer impact 
The many competing criteria for research data requirements include productivity, efficiency, national and regional equity (inclusiveness), self-sufficiency and surplus.  The supply and demand side, intellectual property rights and responsibilities of government and funding agencies, institutions for commercializing research outputs, communications support and advocacy, need to be looked at.

Reducing information gaps 
For Dr. Dardak, the most important challenge for researchers is the sharing of the information because they are reluctant to lose control of ownership of their research. Researchers must be convinced to share their knowledge by ensuring acknowledgement of their ownership.

Dr. Chand added that the biggest technology gap arises from forgetting that adopters need simple and not complex technologies. Understanding the real needs is key to reducing the gap. Evaluation at different stages of technology development and transfer is crucial to understand the adoption of the technology, Mr. Sutton stressed.

There seems to be a lot of information of value to farmers that is not being shared with them. Panelists wondered how information could be taken out of the different silos in which it was slotted and used to promote informed decision-making. It was pointed out that the biggest gap was between what was already out there and what was still needed.

Tools such as the Internet can facilitate information sharing. However, the challenge is to sift through the huge amount of online information. While websites such as Wikipedia are useful, this does not address the needs of those seeking highly specialized information. It was suggested that SATNET could play such a role.

Role of SATNET in improved sharing of knowledge and good practice 
Dr. Cardenas suggested a role for SATNET as the lead knowledge management institution, particularly on issues relevant to agriculture. It could help mobilize global initiatives on and connect with other platforms to share information as well as to create online mechanisms and simple tools for knowledge-sharing. Dr. Soeun added that the primary role of SATNET should be related to networking, followed by policy research. Dr. Chand suggested that SATNET could play a role in sorting out (organizing) information.

Providing information to smallholder farmers in future 
Regional and South-South cooperation can speed up innovation, it was observed. Developed countries do not have a monopoly on innovation, Mr. Williamson said, pointing out that the most innovative ideas were emerging from the least developed countries. This is why international cooperation is important to develop and share knowledge. More knowledge will have to be shared than before to make it easier for farmers to access the information they need. 

Reporter: Martina Spisiakova, Knowledge Management Consultant, SATNET Asia
Data and methodological issues in evaluation of knowledge networks for technology transfer 

Dr. Hannah Jaenicke, Consultant, Project Management and Evaluation, in her presentation to the Policy Dialogue reviewed data and methodological issues in evaluating the role of knowledge networks in technology transfer. Social capital and networks are increasingly recognized as having an important role in promoting sustainable development by speeding up the transfer of knowledge with the participation of the recipients, thereby increasing the sense of ownership of the knowledge. However, the effect of networks in promoting sustainable development is difficult to quantify as compiling data from development work is difficult. Dr. Jaenicke outlined key reasons for networks to be established, such as obtaining and sharing information and advice, and promoting collaboration, trust and friendship among practitioners. Networks can also help build trust across institutional boundaries, which is important for successful technology transfer. 

In a preview of the SATNET Asia project evaluation she was conducting, Dr. Jaenicke stated that while it had achieved many of the key indicators of success, the data set was too thin. The project has set an indicator that shows that 70 percent of survey respondents from within the SATNET Asia network indicate enhanced regional networking..  At least 10 best practices for technology transfer had been identified and at least 3 trade facilitation measures recommended. There was also indication of an uptake of the new knowledge. Narrative evidence on the importance of networking in gaining and sharing knowledge was important to complement the evaluation findings. Training and capacity-building of intermediaries conducted by the SATNET Asia project was a valuable element in transferring new knowledge, she noted.

Reporter: Maame Agyeben, TID, UNESCAP